England needed a late goal from Harry Kane to secure a hard fought 2-1 over Tunisia In Group G.
Belgium defeated Panama 3-0.
Both England and Belgium each have three points in Group G however Belgium is a plus three while England is a plus one.
The Daily Mail:” Soft penalty. Tick. Raheem Sterling missed sitter. Tick. Underwhelming opening-game scoreline, plenty of work to do now, a frustrated nation watching from home. Tick, tick and bloody tick.
So it was shaping up as another typical World Cup opener for England. And then Harry Kane scored. He scored in injury time, his second of the game.
The cynical will say they were two tap-ins: a header and a close-range finish, six-yard box interventions from corners. But let’s put that into perspective. England last scored two in any finals game in 2006 against Sweden. And an England player last scored twice at a World Cup 28 years ago. Gary Lineker, against Cameroon, in 1990. England did quite well in 1990, too. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
England won. The best team won. That’s good news, too. England haven’t looked as lively as they did in the opening 45 minutes here in close to two decades. It was far from the perfect display but it is not going to be when Gareth Southgate is sending out England’s youngest team at a World Cup since 1962.
There will be errors like the one Kyle Walker made to give away the penalty for Tunisia’s goal — although it was still a soft fall —there will be misses, like Sterling’s horror show after just five minutes. Nerves can do that.
Yet, in glimpses, Southgate saw his vision, his England, take flight. They were everything the manager would have wished: fast, positive, ambitious, optimistic. They dominated Tunisia, creating enough chances to have won not just this first group game, but maybe all three.
They had six shots on target before half-time: more than any team at the World Cup so far. More than Spain and Portugal, more than Lionel Messi’s Argentina against Iceland; more than Brazil. And it was just like watching Brazil at times. Except the finishing. The finishing, Kane aside, was like watching Alan Brazil. Long retired, and after four days at Cheltenham. Not a pretty sight.
And then there’s Kane, entering a World Cup as if born to it, the youngest captain of his country at the tournament, the oldest head on the field when it mattered.
Anyone who wondered why Southgate made him captain now knows: because he leads by example, because he stays cool under pressure, because he makes good things happen, and can drag people through adversity with him. And memo to Roy Hodgson: it’s a lot easier to score from corners when you’re not taking them.
Kane changed England’s World Cup narrative and maybe this entire campaign, too. England were slipping towards another night of disappointment, but Kane had other ideas. He’s always got other ideas. He had other ideas when Tottenham thought he wouldn’t make it as an elite goal-scorer, other ideas when the European Championship in 2016 appeared to have blighted his England career, and other ideas when England were conforming to type in Volgograd.
The announcement of four minutes’ injury time had just been made and England appeared to have run out of steam. We’ve seen this film before.
They won a corner, but hadn’t threatened even from that favourite area in the second half. Kieran Trippier whipped the ball in, Harry Maguire won the header, as he had all night, and there was Kane — just as he had been for the first goal — at the far post seeking the glimmer of a chance. He nodded it past reserve goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha. Against all expectations, England were going to get what they deserved.
Now this has to be repeated. Not just the performance but the scoreline. One won’t do. That has been England’s problem at tournaments for too long now. They score one. Never two. And if they are going to take risks as Southgate wishes them to, they have to be prepared to score two.
For, as tame as Tunisia’s penalty looked, there was plenty of professional opinion that blamed Walker for giving it away. Fakhreddine Ben Youssef made the most of it, and then some, but Walker’s positioning was poor. It needed Kane to overcome that. It now needs his team-mates to chip in.
That England went in level at half-time was a travesty; but it was a travesty, sadly, of the players’ own creation. Miss followed miss, blunder followed blunder. Not just half-chances, or even good chances, but absolute sitters, the sort any professional feels he could score with his eyes shut.
Defensively, Tunisia had no answer to Kane, Jesse Lingard, Sterling and Dele Alli in England’s front line. From set-pieces, they could not handle John Stones and, largely, Maguire. England were dominating, winning every ball in the air, getting behind the full backs, working opportunities in the box.
Had they scored even half what they created they would probably have been safe. But the chances fell to everybody bar Kane. That, and a dubious penalty award from Colombian official Wilmar Roldan, went against them.
Walker, out of position as a rare cross came in, caught Ben Youssef with a trailing, extended arm. If Ben Youssef falls that easily when touched he must be a nightmare on public transport but Roldan bought it, pointed to the spot, and despite some conversation with the referee impersonators dressed in their kit in a television studio, was given no reason to consult a screen or change his mind. Against that, Ferjani Sassi’s finish from the spot was outstanding. He swept the ball into the side-netting to his left, even though Jordan Pickford guessed correctly. Yet it should have been little more than a consolation. It should have been an irrelevance: and here’s why.
his was England’s best performance in a tournament opener in many years. Much better than their last win, over Paraguay in 2006. Had the scoreline reflected England’s supremacy Southgate’s side would have laid down the most emphatic marker of any nation at this World Cup so far.
Instead, it was hard. You’ve heard commentators tell you how a player did the hard part, only to miss the goal. Ignore him; it’s rubbish. The goal is the hard part. That’s why strikers get the most money. Time and again, England did exactly what Southgate asked of them, got to the hard part, and flapped.
The game was only three minutes old when Jordan Henderson — whose passing range impressed — played a lovely ball over the top for Alli. Sterling couldn’t quite get on the end of it, but Lingard could and should have done better, his shot diverted around a post by the feet of goalkeeper Mouez Hassen. Just two minutes later, Alli played a beautiful reverse pass inside to release Lingard and his cross put Sterling in, the ball on a plate. What happened? He went for it with his wrong foot, somehow getting mixed up between that machine-gun right, and his lesser left, and sending the ball bobbling wide. There were 85 minutes to go and already the chance of the night had been spurned. It surely wasn’t going to get better than that.
Yet, it did. From an Ashley Young corner on 11 minutes, Stones’s header was palmed out by Hassen, but only as far as Kane, who turned it in. To make matters worse for Tunisia, the goalkeeper injured his shoulder making the save. He was replaced soon after by Ben Mustapha, but still England tried and failed in front of goal. Young hit a great cross after 24 minutes, but Lingard finished it woefully at the far post, scuffing the ball tamely wide. It was hoped the unexpected reverse of Tunisia’s equaliser would focus English minds. Sadly, no.
A 39th-minute goalmouth scramble saw Sterling miss the ball with an attempted overhead kick, then Stones miss it entirely trying a more conventional finish. Finally, Lingard went through one on one, slipping the ball past Ben Mustapha and then watching as it rolled agonisingly and hit the near post, diverting wide instead of straight out for a rebound finish.
Maybe Panama will give the rest of them the chance to get their eye in.
They need to, before what should be the group decider against Belgium. Kane can’t go it alone from here.